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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
November 2003


Marriage Protection Week

A coalition of Religious Right organizations declared October 12-18 (five years since Matthew Shepard's death) "Marriage Protection Week," and it was officially declared by the President. The Religious Right organizations that invented it told their followers that it was an opportunity to make legal strides against sexual and religious minorities; the Presidential proclamation said nothing about the Federal Marriage Amendment, had one sentence about marriage being for one man and one woman, and otherwise was about strengthening families. A Focus on the Family article quoted Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: "I really believe this is the poster-child issue for whether or not we can turn back the tide of neo-paganism in this country. The only way that we're going to be able to stop that is through a Federal Marriage Amendment." The Rev. Tom Elliff, of the Council on Family Life, said, "It's so very, very important for us reclaim the territory that's already been lost and then to make sure that we never lose it again."

A Family Research Council website (www.protectmarriage.org) includes the President's Proclamation, sample sermons, a copy of a pledge sent to every candidate for office in the country, and a list of questions and answers that starts with marriage and ends up focusing on their usual anti-gay propaganda. The Traditional Values Coalition distributed Marriage Protection Week church bulletins that included the President's proclamation, the text of the Federal Marriage Amendment, a theological statement on marriage including Genesis 3:24, and next to a cute cartoon of a smiling bride and groom, an invitation to read and distribute "TVC's special reports on marriage and the homosexual agenda" and then "write a letter to the editor or your U.S. Senators and Representative."

More Clergy Stop Signing Marriage Licenses

The Fitchburg, MA Sentinel & Enterprise reported that Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Gardner will not sign marriage licenses until Massachusetts recognizes marriages of same-gender couples. "When the first gay couple in Massachusetts gets their license, signs it, and turns it in I will gladly sign licenses for any couple I marry." The Portsmouth (NH) Herald reported that Rev. Kendra Ford of the First Unitarian Society of Exeter has stopped signing licenses, seeing "no distinction between the wedding ceremonies" of same-gender and mixed-gender couples. The Atlanta Constitution printed a guest column with excerpts from a sermon by Rev. Don Southworth of the Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Sandy Springs, GA announcing his intent to stop signing licenses; performing a ceremony without a license is a misdemeanor in Georgia (a $500 fine). The Yale Herald reported that seven clergy, including "a Presbyterian, a Congregationalist, and a Rabbi," announced their decision to stop signing licenses at the Unitarian Society of New Haven. The AP said that it was "about a dozen" clergy.

Coming Out and About in Lynchburg

The Soulforce-organized "Coming Out and About in Lynchburg" (October 9-12) featured a marriage equality forum at First Christian Church; a Coming Out Day pride march and celebration; and across the street from Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church a non-violent silent vigil by 150 Soulforce volunteers and a blessing of thirty families by Jimmy Creech and the Rev. Pam DeFusco of High Point UCC in Union, Kentucky.

IWG Co-coordinator Chris Purdom was one of six speakers at the marriage forum where he distributed over one hundred copies of the IWG marriage brochure. Other speakers: Jimmy Creech, Imam Daayiee Abdullah (first openly gay Imam) and representatives from People for the American Way, dontamend.com and GLAAD. The Lynchburg News and Advance had pre-event coverage and articles about Saturday's and Sunday's events; Chris was quoted extensively in two different stories.

Sponsors of the Coming Out Day events included Soulforce, Interfaith Working Group, Al-Fatiha, Americans United, Catawba Valley PFLAG, Family Pride Coalition, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Marriage Equality USA, Lutherans Concerned North America, First Christian Church of Lynchburg, First Light Ministries, New Beginnings Christian Church of Richmond, GLAAD, Love Makes a Family, Lynchburg PFLAG, MCC Charlottesville, People for the American Way, Remnant Worship Group of Lynchburg, Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge, Roanoke 7, World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews and Virginia NOW.

Anti-GLBT protestors were on hand outside First Christian Church, at the Pride celebration in the park, and outside Thomas Road Baptist Church. The group at the park included people with bullhorns who harangued the speakers and performers, and several small children carrying signs about Sodom and sexual immorality and screaming "God hates you" at everyone who passed. A protestor with a large panel truck decorated with the Ten Commandments, and various political and religious slogans regarding marriage, church-state separation and abortion drove back and forth in front of all the events.

Musical Expulsions

Michael Sabatino, Jr. and Robert Voorheis, members of the choir of St. Benedict's Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx for thirty-two and twenty years respectively, were kicked out of the choir by Monsignor Edmund Whalen because they had been featured in a marriage article in Christianity Today, and their legal marriage in Canada had been announced in the New York Times. Their expulsions were reported by the AP, the Bronx Times, and The Journal News of White Plains, NY.

Todd Diehl, music director at First Presbyterian Church of Downers Grove, IL, was told to repent or resign after he came out to church officials, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune characterized the 350-member congregation as "divided" following the ultimatum by the session. The article quoted several members, and mentioned the dismissal of the choir director at Holy Family Catholic Church in Rockford, IL earlier this year, the history of conflicts over GLBT churches in the PCUSA, Canadian civil marriage, Lawrence v. Texas, and the controversy over Bishop Robinson. According to the article, the church's web site said Diehl "has been an important part of this worship renewal, as he has brought tremendous talent, resources and dedication to the church." As of November 1, the "Music Ministry" page was stripped of content.

Media Marriage Coverage

The Christian Science Monitor had an article on the battle over marriage discrimination and effects on other efforts to shape marriage policy. The Boston Globe quoted Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who encouraged "all the members of our community, regardless of their religious persuasion or their sexual orientation, to realize what is at stake and to oppose any attempt to alter the definition of marriage." The South Bend (IN) Tribune ran a story about anti-marriage activist Gerald Bradley speaking to a "small and largely elderly crowd" at First Presbyterian of Plymouth, IN. Among many quotes from Bradley was this: "What I think the law is saying, when they say that marriage is something between men and women, is that it's something to do with children and procreation...and the network of morally charged relationships between parents and children."

The Framingham, MA Metrowest Daily News ran "Religions band together to ban gay marriage," about a meeting of "150 Catholics, Protestants and Jews." The Aberdeen (SD) American News reported on a Concerned Women for America-sponsored event with a United Methodist pastor, Roman Catholic priest, and two state legislators; it drew about 30 people. The Record of West Paterson, NJ, Newark Star-Ledger, and Montclair Times reported on a pro-marriage rally at Montclair State. Among others, The Record quoted Rabbi Kenneth Brickman of Temple Beth-El in Jersey City: "People have this idea that there's a blanket condemnation of gay marriage by all religions. Those of us who support same-sex marriage haven't been vocal enough. It's important to show there are faiths that view same-sex couples as equals."

The Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed people who claimed to be pro-gay or indifferent on gay issues but against equal marriage rights for same-gender couples.

According to a Newhouse News Service story about Detroit State Rep. Trieste Reeves, at a press conference to support a state constitutional amendment defining marriage, Reeves said, "From the African-American perspective, which is the only perspective I can give, our focus is, 'God said it, we believe it, and we should promote it.' I know that sounds elementary but it's really that simple." The Boston Globe published an opinion piece by Congressman John Lewis, who said, "This discrimination is wrong. We cannot keep turning our backs on gay and lesbian Americans. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I've heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry."

An Associated Baptist Press story on Marriage Protection Week concluded with information about Soulforce's marriage forum and a quote from Soulforce's Laura Montgomery Rutt, who said that the week and the President's proclamation were "based on misguided religious teachings which cross the boundaries of church-state separation and the principles of religious liberty."

Episcopal Church, USA

The AP distributed 33+ articles in October regarding the Episcopal Church's ongoing controversy over the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson's confirmation/consecration as bishop. One reported that the Pope warned the Archbishop of Canterbury that Robinson's election would cause serious difficulties in the relationship between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Another said, "Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh got a standing ovation from a crowd of about 2,700 like-minded Episcopalians" for a speech at the American Anglican Council meeting in Dallas in which he "outlined a scenario in which the church begins to disintegrate." A final report on the Dallas meeting focused on the possibility that the AAC "could evolve into a new denomination separate from the existing Episcopal Church." An Oct. 12 article said, "The Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida voted to stop a convention already in session, hoping to calm fears of a mass exodus from the national church over its decision to name an openly gay bishop."

The Fort Worth Star Telegram report on the AAC meeting quoted the Rev. Kendall Harmon, theology advisor for the bishop of South Carolina, who said the Episcopal Church "is a church where people have officially been led away from Christ." The Dallas Morning News quoted several attendees and presenters who spoke of being desperate, in pain, abandoned, and harassed.

The AAC web site has a letter from Cardinal Ratzinger, on behalf of the Pope, to those attending the Dallas meeting. There is also a long letter from Dr. Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of the New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, responding to Griswold quotes in an AP article defending Robinson. Gagnon, who has been increasingly successful at positioning himself as the leading authority on homosexuality and the Bible, concludes his remarks to Griswold: "I urge you to read more widely, and more carefully, as regards recent work on the subject of the Bible and homosexual behavior."

Pledge of Allegiance

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the 9th Circuit Court's ruling against mandatory recita-tion of the 1954 "under God" version of the Pledge of Allegiance. An Americans United press release said the Court's decision "sets the stage for an emotional clash over government endorsement of religion." The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, AU Executive Director, said, "This case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to remind all Americans of the importance of freedom of conscience. This is the most controversial religion-in-schools case since the school prayer decisions of the early 1960s. No one should feel coerced to take part in a religious exercise to express patriotism. A country founded on religious freedom should not be afraid to recognize that love of God and love of country are not the same for some people. Requiring a daily religious loyalty test for school children is simply wrong.” Lynn noted that the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister without “under God” and was recited for several decades without any religious references.

Fred Phelps "Monument"

Several news sources have reported on an attempt by Fred Phelps to erect an anti-Matthew-Shepard “monument” in Casper, WY. Because the city has had a Ten Commandments monument in the park since 1965 and decided to keep it after judicial rulings that the presence of a Ten Commandment monument creates a public forum, it is doubtful that the city will be able to keep Phelps from putting up whatever he wants. The Traditional Values Coalition distributed an article entitled "'Pastor' Fred Phelps Aids The Homosexual Agenda." Phelps later stated that he would erect one in every public park in the nation with a Ten Commandments monument.

Jewish Students Boycott Interfaith Conference

In an article headlined "Gay issue prompts Jewish students to boycott conference," the Vancouver Sun reported that a local Hillel Foundation decided not to participate in a conference organized by Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at of British Columbia entitled "The Existence of God and Human Suffering" after the organizers uninvited the host, Vancouver city councilor and United Church minister the Rev. Tim Stevenson, because he is gay. A statement from the organizers said "upon further investigation, we do not believe that he will be an appropriate representative for the ideals we are trying to promote." A representative from Hillel wrote to the organizers, "Councilor Stevenson is an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada. By rescinding his invitation, you are judging another religion's right to ordain whomsoever it deems fit, the very antithesis of what your conference hopes to promote."


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